Few things in life are better than enjoying a gorgeously prepared homemade meal. We all know that the quality of the ingredients that we use greatly affects the quality of the meal — but did you know that the cookware can also make all the difference? Most kitchen tools are not a one-size-fits-all solution, so if you’re ever unsure which one your recipe calls for, look to this guide for help. 

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When to Use Different Types of Cookware

If you’re…

Browning, searing, fast cooking or frying: Making eggs or protein pancakes in the morning? Searing a gorgeous piece of tuna for date night? A good frying pan is an absolute kitchen essential. Frying pans allow for air circulation, and they also make it easy to see, stir and flip foods. Non-stick pans allow you to cook with even more ease. Simply place the ingredients into the pan — no oil necessary — and watch as the magic unfolds.

Simmering, boiling, cooking grains, poaching eggs and making sauces: Making chicken and vegetable soup? Poaching eggs for Sunday brunch? Steaming a bounty of vegetables? You’ll need a saucepan. Think of a saucepan as a frying pan with long, vertical walls. You can cook ingredients such as garlic and onion in a frying pan prior to adding them to the saucepan, or simply cook an entire recipe from start to finish in one.

Long, slow cooking: If you’re preparing a winter stew, braised chicken dish, roast or cauliflower casserole, you’ll want to use a Dutch oven (also commonly referred to as a French oven or cocotte), or a large, heavy pot with vertical sides, two sturdy loop handles and a heavy, tight-fitting lid. A Dutch oven allows for liquids and flavors to penetrate food slowly, over time. Layer your ingredients, slip it into the oven or place it on your stove, wait patiently and enjoy.

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Sautéing: If you’re sautéing vegetables or making a stir fry, you’ll want to do so in a sauté pan. A sauté pan is essentially a combination of a saucepan and a frying pan, except with slightly taller walls. The term comes from the French word sautér, or “to jump.” When you sauté food, you stir it and allow for it to “jump” around the pan, cooking and browning and intermingling with the sauce or seasonings of your choosing.

Stir frying or smoking: Here’s when you’ll want to use a wok. Woks aren’t absolute kitchen essentials, but they’re simple to use and can deepen the flavors of ingredients. They heat up very quickly and cook ingredients at an accelerated rate. They’re also incredibly easy to use — chop some vegetables and protein, put them in the wok, add whatever seasonings and sauces you’re using, and stir, cover, stir. 

Grilling and searing: Whether you’re grilling vegetables from the Farmer’s Market or cooking a beautiful petite filet, you’ll want to do so on a grill pan. A grill pan features rigged surfaces that mimic the grates found on an outdoor grill, with low sides for air movement and ventilation. The good news? Smaller versions, designed to be kept in the kitchen, are available and easy to use. This means that you can enjoy the sumptuous flavors of summer barbeques even when it’s snowing right outside your window. Grills are excellent for high-temperature cooking — simply place the ingredients on top of the grill, flip and enjoy.

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